Sunday, July 24, 2016

Education is overrated - make up a degree and become a German MP

There are success stories in German education. Take for example the man in the recent article in The Atlantic: How a guy from a Montana trailer park overturned 150 years of biology.

Tuition free university education in Germany made this headline possible.

But the German system has a dark side, especially with respect to the academic achievements of politicians. Every couple of years or so, a high ranking politician gets outed as having plagiarized most of his or her PhD thesis.

And many a doctoral degree in Germany is not worth much, and you can find a howTo in our older post EasyPhD - the German way.
Fluffing up a resume, like the current defense minister's interlude at Stanford (The two resumes of the German Defense Minister (official vs. Wikipedia)), may not be a testament to rigor, but it is not a huge deal.
 These episodes, however, pale in comparison to the political career of Ms. Petra Hinz, a long term member of parliament for the Social Democrats (SPD). Having been been in the Berlin federal parliament since 2005, last week saw the revelation that the K-12 degree "Abitur" and the subsequent law degrees as well as a professional career as a lawyer, neatly set out on her official resume, were completely made up.

When the news broke, the blogster wondered: Is it possible to make up what basically is your highschool degree plus both college and the subsequent lawyer training, have a public career in politics, and have this not noticed for 30 years? In Germany, mind you, a country famous for its paperwork?

This sounded improbable, and new articles shine a light on how she pulled it off. The most detailed one, thus far, is in Frankfurter Allgemeine.

It tells a story of quiet complicity, of nepotism, of protection by the party elders and of a "don't ask, don't tell" mentality within the ranks of the SPD. Ms. Hinz was, according to the article, a backbencher who knew when to follow orders and how to advance without making waves.

Once the silence was broken, more disturbing news about her followed. She went through some 50 office aides during her tenure in Berlin, with some lasting just a day, and with the last one resigning effective 1 July, several weeks before the scandal broke.

Reader comments to various articles showed anger and incredulity. One person asked "How can this happen when you cannot get even a vocational training contract without submitting graduation papers?"
Another, with more insight into the procedures of parliamentary work said: "Every parliamentary aide undergoes a background check. What was going on?"

No high ranking politicians of either party in the Berlin parliament has publicly commented on the revelation, as sign that the full background will not come to light.

[Update 8/5/2016] This new article describes the various ways German politicians spice up their resumes or turn an interesting personal history into an asset.

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